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Ash Wednesday: A Reflection

February 22, 2023

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent. There are many traditional observances that people take up during this holy season. Some give up red meat on Fridays. Others might give up chocolate or alcohol for the Lenten season. Some folks choose to take a 40-day break from Social Media. These days of “fasting” aren’t a way to earn credit with God but rather they invite the individual to look beyond the physical world and join Jesus in his 40-day fast in the wilderness (you can read the following passages about Jesus and his wilderness experience — Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13).

In the past, Denise and I have followed the tradition involving doing some new act of faith and/or service that will go beyond Lent. Ultimately, I believe that this season invites me to reflect on the life and ministry of Jesus with a special focus during Holy Week and his journey towards the cross. I believe it calls me to remember and to return to the central relationship of my faith, Jesus.

I truly appreciate the Ash Wednesday reflection that Thomas Merton wrote in his book, Seasons of Celebration. He opens the reflection with the following words: Even the darkest moments of the liturgy are filled with joy, and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the lenten fast, is a day of happiness, a Christian feast. It cannot be otherwise, as it forms part of the great Easter cycle. (p. 91)

He also reminds us that the season of Lent is about far more than fasting.We must remember the original meaning of Lent, as the ver sacrum, the Church’s “holy spring” in which the catechumens were prepared for their baptism, and public penitents were made ready by penance for their restoration to the sacramental life in a communion with the rest of the Church. Lent is then not a season of punishment so much as one of healing. (Lent and Easter Wisdom From Thomas Merton, p. 2 Kindle Version) One of the most profound Lenten experiences that I had was when I was deployed to Afghanistan and Uzbekistan in 2005. My colleague and friend, Fr Steve was working with a Sergeant who was preparing to join the Catholic Church. At the Easter vigil mass on the Saturday before Easter Sunday, he was welcomed into the church. It was a joy-filled moment for the Sergeant and for each one of us who was at the service.

So this evening the congregation that I am currently serving as the Interim/Transitional Minister will gather for worship. As a part of that service, I will make a cross of ashes on the worshippers forehead as a reminder that even though we came from dust and to dust we shall return we are also embraced by the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness of our loving Creator. May this Lenten season be a time of reflection and blessing for you, dear reader, as we walk this journey together.

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